A bhikkhu (from Pali, Sanskrit: bhikṣu) is an ordained male monastic
("monk") in Buddhism. Male and female monastics ("nun", bhikkhuni
Sanskrit bhikṣuṇī)) are members of the Buddhist community.
The lives of all Buddhist monastics are governed by a set of rules
called the prātimokṣa or pātimokkha. Their lifestyles are
shaped to support their spiritual practice: to live a simple and
meditative life and attain nirvana.
A person under the age of 20 cannot be ordained as a bhikkhu or
bhikkhuni but can be ordained as a śrāmaṇera or śrāmaṇērī.
2 Historical terms in Western literature
3.4 Additional vows in the
4 Japan and Korea
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Bhikkhu literally means "beggar" or "one who lives by alms". The
historical Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, having abandoned a life of
pleasure and status, lived as an alms mendicant as part of his
śramaṇa lifestyle. Those of his more serious students who abandoned
their lives as householders and came to study full-time under his
supervision also adopted this lifestyle. These full-time student
members of the sangha became the community of ordained monastics who
wandered from town to city throughout the year, living off alms and
stopping in one place only for the Vassa, the rainy months of the
Dhammapada commentary of Buddhaghosa, a bhikkhu is defined as
"the person who sees danger (in samsara or cycle of rebirth)" (Pāli:
Bhayaṃ ikkhatīti: bhikkhu). He therefore seeks ordination to obtain
release from it. The
[266-267] He is not a monk just because he lives on others' alms. Not
by adopting outward form does one become a true monk. Whoever here (in
the Dispensation) lives a holy life, transcending both merit and
demerit, and walks with understanding in this world — he is
truly called a monk.
For historical reasons, the full ordination of women has been
Vajrayana practitioners, although
recently the full ordination for women has been reintroduced to many
Historical terms in Western literature
A bonze farmer
In English literature before the mid-20th century, Buddhist monks were
often referred to by the term bonze, particularly when describing
monks from East Asia and French Indochina. This term is derived
Portuguese and French from Japanese bonsō, meaning 'priest, monk'. It
is rare in modern literature.
Buddhist monks were once called talapoy or talapoin from French
talapoin, itself from Portuguese talapão, ultimately from Mon tala
pōi, meaning 'our lord'.
The Talapoys cannot be engaged in any of the temporal concerns of
life; they must not trade or do any kind of manual labour, for the
sake of a reward; they are not allowed to insult the earth by digging
it. Having no tie, which unites their interests with those of the
people, they are ready, at all times, with spiritual arms, to enforce
obedience to the will of the sovereign.
— Edmund Roberts, Embassy to the eastern courts of Cochin-China,
Siam, and Muscat
The talapoin is a monkey named after Buddhist monks just as the
capuchin monkey is named after the
Order of Friars Minor Capuchin
Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (who
also are the origin of the word cappuccino).
Theravada monasticism is organized around the guidelines found within
a division of the
Pāli Canon called the
Vinaya Pitaka. Laypeople
undergo ordination as a novitiate (śrāmaṇera or sāmanera) in a
rite known as the "going forth" (Pali: pabbajja). Sāmaneras are
subject to the Ten Precepts. From there full ordination (Pali:
upasampada) may take place. Bhikkhus are subject to a much longer set
of rules known, the Pātimokkha (Theravada) or
Tibetan monks engaging in a traditional monastic debate.
Mahayana monasticism is part of the system of "vows of
individual liberation". These vows are taken by monks and nuns from
the ordinary sangha, in order to develop personal ethical
Vajrayana Buddhism, the term "sangha"
is, in principle, often understood to refer particularly to the
aryasangha (Tib. mchog kyi tshogs), the "community of the noble ones
who have reached the first bhūmi". These, however, need not be monks
The vows of individual liberation are taken in four steps. A lay
person may take the five
Upāsaka and Upāsikā vows (Tibetan dge
snyan, dge snyan ma "approaching virtue"). The next step is to enter
the pabbajja or monastic way of life (Srt: pravrajya, Tib. rab byung
pronounced rabjung), which includes wearing monk's or nun's robes.
After that, one can become a samanera or samaneri "novice" (Skt.
śrāmaṇera, śrāmaṇeri, Tib. dge tshul, dge tshul ma). The last
and final step is to take all the vows of a bhikkhu or bhukkhuni
"fully ordained monastic" (Sanskrit: bhikṣu, bhikṣuṇī, Tib. dge
long, dge long ma).
Monastics take their vows for life but can renounce them and return to
non-monastic life and even take the vows again later. A person
can take them up to three times or seven times in one life, depending
on the particular practices of each school of discipline; after that,
the sangha should not accept them again. In this way, Buddhism
keeps the vows "clean". It is possible to keep them or to leave this
lifestyle, but it is considered extremely negative to break these
In Tibet, the upāsaka, pravrajya and bhikṣu ordinations are usually
taken at ages six, fourteen and twenty-one or older, respectively.
Main article: Kasaya (clothing)
A Cambodian monk in his robes
Two monks in reddish yellow robes
The special dress of ordained people, referred to in English as robes,
comes from the idea of wearing a simple durable form of protection for
the body from weather and climate. In each tradition there is
uniformity in the colour and style of dress. Colour is often chosen
due to the wider availability of certain pigments in a given
geographical region. In
Tibet and the Himalayan regions (Kashmir,
Nepal and Bhutan) red is the preferred pigment used in the dying of
robes. In Burma, reddish brown; In India, Sri Lanka and South-East
Asia various shades of yellow, ochre and orange prevail. In China,
Korea, Japan and Vietnam grey or black is common. Monks often make
their own robes from cloth that is donated to them.
The robes of Tibetan novices and monks differ in various aspects,
especially in the application of "holes" in the dress of monks. Some
monks tear their robes into pieces and then mend these pieces together
again. Upasakas cannot wear the "chö-göö", a yellow tissue worn
during teachings by both novices and full monks.
In observance of the
Kathina Puja, a special
Kathina robe is made in
24 hours from donations by lay supporters of a temple. The robe is
donated to the temple or monastery, and the resident monks then select
from their own number a single monk to receive this special robe.
Additional vows in the
Mahayana traditions, a Bhikṣu may take additional vows not
related to ordination, including the
Bodhisattva vows, samaya vows,
and others, which are also open to laypersons in most instances.
Japan and Korea
Saichō petitioned for a
Mahayana ordination platform to be built in
Japan. Permission was granted seven days after his death. and the
platform was completed in 827 by his disciple, Gishin.
Saichō believed the 250 precepts were for the
Śrāvakayāna and that
ordination should use the
Mahayana precepts of the Brahmajala Sutra.
He stipulated that monastics remain on
Mount Hiei for twelve years of
isolated training and follow the major themes of the 250 precepts:
celibacy, non-harming, no intoxicants, vegetarian eating and reducing
labor for gain. After twelve years, monastics would then use the
Vinaya precepts as a provisional, or supplemental, guideline to
conduct themselves by when serving in non-monastic communities.
Tendai monastics followed this practice.
Meiji Restoration during the 1870s, the government
abolished celibacy and vegetarianism for Buddhist monastics in an
effort to secularise them and promote the newly created State
Shinto. Japanese Buddhists won the right to proselytize inside
cities, ending a five-hundred year ban on clergy members entering
Currently, priests (lay religious leaders) in Japan choose to observe
vows as appropriate to their family situation. Celibacy and other
forms of abstaining are generally "at will" for varying periods of
After the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, when Japan annexed Korea,
Buddhism underwent many changes.
Jōdo Shinshū and Nichiren
schools began sending missionaries to Korea under Japanese rule, and
new sects formed there such as Won Buddhism. The Temple Ordinance of
1911 (Hangul: 사찰령; Hanja: 寺刹令) changed the
traditional system whereby temples were run as a collective enterprise
by the Sangha, replacing this system with Japanese-style management
practices in which temple abbots appointed by the Governor-General of
Korea were given private ownership of temple property and given the
rights of inheritance to such property. More importantly, monks
from pro-Japanese factions began to adopt Japanese practices, by
marrying and having children.
In Korea, the practice of celibacy varies. The two sects of Korean
Seon divided in 1970 over this issue; the
Jogye Order is fully
celibate while the
Taego Order has both celibate monastics and
non-celibate Japanese-style priests.
Young Indian Buddhist monk in India.
Theravada Buddhist monk in Laos
A Buddhist monk in China
A Buddhist monk in Taiwan
A Buddhist monk in the U.S. (Chinese Buddhism)
A Buddhist monk in Tibet
Monks in Luang Prabang
Monks in Thailand
People of the Pāli Canon
(the Buddhist community)
Novice (m., f.)
lay renunciants (m., f.)
dasa sil mata,
lay renunciants (f.)
Upāsaka and Upāsikā
Lay devotee (m., f.)
^ a b c Lay Guide to the Monks' Rules
^ Buswell, Robert E., ed. (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism
(Monasticism). Macmillan Reference USA. p. 556.
ISBN 0-02-865718-7. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list
^ What is a bhikkhu?
^ Buddhist Dictionary, Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines by
^ a b c Resources: Monastic Vows
^ Buddharakkhita, Acharya. "
Dhammapada XIX — Dhammatthavagga:
The Just". Access To Insight. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
^ Dictionary.com: bonze
^ "talapoin". Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins
Publishers. WordReference.com. June 23, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
Etymology: 16th Century: from French, literally: Buddhist monk, from
Portuguese talapão, from Mon tala pōi our lord ...
^ Roberts 1837, p. 237.
^ Roberts 237.
^ a b how to become a monk?
^ 05-05《律制生活》p. 0064
^ Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka, A.G.S. Kariyawasam
^ a b c Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, Soka Gakkai, 'Dengyo'
^ Clark, Donald N. (2000). Culture and customs of Korea. Greenwood
Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-30456-9.
^ a b Sorensen, Henrik Hjort (1992). Ole Bruun; Arne Kalland; Henrik
Hjort Sorensen, eds. Asian perceptions of nature. Nordic Institute of
Asian Studies. ISBN 978-87-87062-12-1.
Roberts, Edmund (1837). Embassy to the eastern courts of Cochin-China,
Siam, and Muscat: in the U. S. sloop-of-war Peacock ... during the
years 1832-3-4. Harper & brothers.
Inwood, Kristiaan. Bhikkhu, Disciple of the Buddha. Bangkok, Thailand:
Thai Watana Panich, 1981. Revised edition. Bangkok: Orchid Press,
2005. ISBN 978-974-524-059-9.
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